1 Thousand Sheep – Iceland Part 2

Welcome to Iceland – Part 2. If you missed part 1, check it out!

My 30th birthday! On May 26th we woke up (to rain of course) at the Reykjavik Campsite. I liked this campsite because it kind of embodies a sense of community and sharing. There are places to camp in tents, camper vans and RVs, but there’s also a hostel attached for people who want to sleep in actual rooms. The bathrooms, while kind of industrial were ok (Jamie didn’t like them, he said the boys one was gross) but the kitchen area had probably 12 separate cooking stations, each with its own sink, stove top and prep area. There was a shelf full of communal cooking utensils and pots and pans and even a shelf of non-perishable food that people had left there during their travels. There was also a dining/ hang out room next door which had good wifi and outlets at all the tables. This was definitely geared towards the young backpacker audience. It was weird though…for the amount of people there, there were strict no noisiness rules in place so this cool room full of interesting people was completely silent….Very The Island.

After breakfast, Jamie and I retreated to our Camper van to escape the mole people. And also because shortly, a very handsome 24 year old Icelandic surfer named Antone from Arctic Surfers would be coming to pick us up for surfing!! Antone had blue eyes, fair skin and red curly hair. Love you, Antone.

When we got in the car, Antone had already picked up the other couple doing the day trip with us. They were a German couple, both around 30 years old; the boy was an experienced surfer and the girl had opted out of participating. She offered to use my camera to take some action shots for us (thanks)! This would be my second time surfing (the first was in Hawaii and did not require a wetsuit…) and Jamie has recently become very interested in surfing and by this time he’d surfed several times in various places. Antone drove us all to get a quick lunch and then to Thorlakshofn where we got into our wetsuits out on the black sand.

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Thorlakshofn
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Antone helping us with our wetsuits

The beach was beautiful and foggy and once the wetsuit was on, I was warm as an Icelandic bug in a sheep’s wool rug. I should say though, that while I was already worried about my upper body strength being an obstacle in my surfing endeavours, it never occurred to me that the act of putting on the wetsuit would be, in fact, what drained me of all my strength. Once we actually got into the water, I literally swam for about 10 minutes and realized it was futile for me to try to swim out against the current to the place where you’re supposed to catch the waves. (I have since integrated free weights into my gym routine…). So while the stronger boys went deeper into the Ocean, I found myself content staying where my toes could touch the bottom, practising my basics (spotting the right waves, swimming with them and pushing myself up on the board). And while I didn’t look as glamorous as the boys did, I was proud of the few times I stood up on the board for more than 2 seconds and when we were all finished, I pat myself on the back. A for effort. Didn’t drown. Success.

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Icelandic surfing in Thorlakshofn
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Into the Ocean
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Jamie giving me surfing tips
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Jamie and the waves
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Surfboart
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Horses on the beach!
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Viking beach
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Icelandic Surfer Dude
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Icelandic Surfer Dudette

Next we all piled into the car in our wetsuits and Antone drove us to the town’s Rec Centre. Because Icelanders are very proud of all the geothermal activity there, every town seems to have a community recreation centre, focused on swimming and lounging in man-made hot springs. This one had fantastic facilities, a giant gymnasium for community events, a large outdoor pool and several hot tubs of varying temperatures. I got the impression that after school, this is where families go to spend time together. There were so many people there, kids were playing and neighbours were catching up. It was cool. By that point we were all a little chilled so finishing the day with a luxurious soak in the hot tub was heavenly. Antone dropped us off at the campsite an hour later and after the simplest meal possible, we fell asleep absolutely exhausted. Best 30th birthday I ever had.

The next morning, we began our journey east along the southern coast of the island. Our first stop was to the same bakery Antone had taken us to the day before because I suddenly realized I hadn’t eaten any birthday cake and this was a problem. After that necessary trip was complete, we hit the state-run Vinbudin to stock up on exorbitantly priced alcohol (I drank the cheapest cider I could find, the whole trip).

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Delicious baked goods for my birthday cake

Next up was Seljalandsfoss (If you haven’t figured it out yet, everything that ends in “foss” is a waterfall…) It was raining that day (a big shock to both of us) and one thing we noticed while visiting Seljalandsfoss was so many people were ill-equipped for the weather. I saw women wearing garbage bags in heels for Pete’s sake. People. Bring your hiking boots. Or at least some water proof shoes. And a jacket. It’s Iceland!

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Seljalandsfoss’s hidden neighbour, Gljúfurárfoss
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Gljúfurárfoss
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Seljalandsfoss
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Seljalandsfoss
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Seljalandsfoss
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Seljalandsfoss

This was a pretty waterfall, a little touristy for my taste, but it was nice. There’s a path for you to walk around behind the water and if you follow the little path to the west of the main waterfall, there’s a more interesting hidden one that looks a little magical.

Back in the car, on our way to Skogafoss for yet another un-missable, tourist-heavy waterfall. Once we got there, we noticed a little fish and chips shack on the side of the road, but we decided we would save it for our way back to Reykjavik in a couple days. By now it was raining pretty hard, and while the normal thing to do at these falls is to climb the 382 step staircase along the hill, it looked pretty slippery and we were unmotivated to do the trek in the rain. Instead, after walking around the base of the falls for a bit, we went to the visitor’s centre and asked if they had any recommendations for what to do instead of the stairs. The gentleman there gave us step by step instructions on how to reach a hidden waterfall about a 20 minute walk away. So we drove to the Skogar Museum (1 minute away), parked at the back, went through a farmer’s gate and started walking east along the curve of a hill. About 15 minutes later after walking in what we hoped was the right direction, we discovered the most beautiful, hidden waterfall. Only 3 other people were there and it seemed to us like we had discovered it all on our own. Romance falls, I’ll call it (but I think it might actually be called Selvaosfoss?).

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Skogafoss
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Skogafoss
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Skogafoss
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Walking to the secret Romance Falls
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Selvaosfoss? First peek at Romance Falls
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Selvaosfoss
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Selvaosfoss
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Can you find Jamie in this photo?
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Selvaosfoss love
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Selvaosfoss
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Selvaosfoss
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so many sheep always

Our last stop of the day before finding a campsite to stay at was Vik. We had heard a lot about Vik because it serves as a kind of hub along the Southern coast. It’s a fishing town with a school, a rec centre, restaurants and a grocery store. There’s a large gas station there that’s attached to a diner that serves seemingly delicious burgers and fries (we didn’t feel like spending $75 on burgers, so we ate our grocery lunch instead). Because these amenities are few and far between in Iceland, this place gets very busy, especially on the weekends. A lot of people see Vik at the same time as visiting Reynisfjara Beach (the most famous black sand beach) but we decided to save that for the ride back. So instead, we hit up the trusted Vistor’s centre and asked them what we should do there (this became a trend for us because they were always super helpful). The lovely man at the centre directed us to a hike that goes straight up 1,092 ft to the top of Reynisfjall mountain, overlooking Vik and if you walk west enough, you can also look right over Reynisfjara Beach. Again, this was such a nice, secluded hike away from the more touristy areas, and it was such a gorgeous view. It took us about 2.5 hours to do the whole thing, the perfect end to the day.

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Driving to Vik
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On Reynisfjall Mountain overlooking Reynisfjara Beach
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Overlooking Vik
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Overlooking Vik on Reynisfjall Mountain
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Reynisfjall Mountain
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Reynisfjall Mountain
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Reynisfjall Mountain

We set off to find our next campsite, which we came across by accident, and it turned out to be our favourite campsite of the trip. On the way, though we ended up stopping at two hotels to ask for campsite tips and one day when I’m a millionaire, I want to come back and stay at them. Attention Millionaires: please, so I can live vicariously through you, stay at either the Icelandair Hotel Vik or the Hotel Katla which reminded me of The Shining. When we arrived at the Kirkjubæjarklaustur campsite (Yes, that’s the name) we loved the tiny cottages that surrounded the perimeter of the site, there were showers (which cost 6 dollars to use, but hey) and warm, clean washrooms and the view from the camper van was beautiful.

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Kirkjubæjarklaustur campsite
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Kirkjubæjarklaustur campsite

The next morning, we had our Skyr, berries and granola and set off for Jokulsarlon Lagoon to see weird little ice bergs floating around a glacial lake.

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Eating Skyr in the camper van

Jokulsarlon is a glacial lake in front of a massive glacier. Bits of the glacier break off and float around in this lake before funnelling into the Atlantic ocean. It was pretty cool to see, and it is very beautiful but researching online gave us the impression there was a bit more to do here. Sure, you can pay to go on boat tours to see the seals and icebergs up close, but the lake isn’t that big. You’d be spending almost an hour on a very slow boat ride around a fairly small area. It could be very relaxing for some people, but I think we would have become restless and would rather spend our time moving around. There was a small cafe and gift shop here, which was convenient but made for a very busy place. I would definitely recommend stopping here, but while we thought we would spend a few hours here, I would suggest stopping for half an hour to an hour.

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Driving to Jokulsarlon
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Driving to Jokulsarlon
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Driving to Jokulsarlon
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Driving to Jokulsarlon
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Jokulsarlon
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Jokulsarlon
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Jokulsarlon
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Jokulsarlon
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Jokulsarlon – Jamie looking at the seals

At this point, since we thought we would have spent more time at the lake, we set off back in the direction we came from, knowing we had to start our journey back to Reykjavik and that there were a few things we had passed on the way that looked interesting. One such place was Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park. We hadn’t planned on stopping here, but when we found ourselves with extra time, it was the perfect solution. I’m so happy we ended up here as it became one of the my favourite parts of the trip (maybe it had to do with the fact that the sun was out for some of the visit…) Again, after speaking with the Visitor Centre folks, we had a plan. We hiked up to Sjonarnipa viewpoint to look out over the Skaftafellsjokull glacier. Then we walked over the top of the mountain to the Svartifoss waterfall, took some pictures and began our descent down the mountain.

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Hiking to Sjonarnipa viewpoint
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Hiking to Sjonarnipa viewpoint
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Sjonarnipa viewpoint overlooking the Skaftafellsjokull glacier
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Sjonarnipa viewpoint overlooking the Skaftafellsjokull glacier
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Sjonarnipa viewpoint overlooking the Skaftafellsjokull glacier
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Sjonarnipa viewpoint overlooking the Skaftafellsjokull glacier
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Sjonarnipa viewpoint overlooking the Skaftafellsjokull glacier
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Svartifoss waterfall

We stayed at the Kirkjubæjarklaustur campsite again that night because we loved it so much the night before and the next morning we woke up to a bit of sun and the sounds of millions of sheep bleeting on the hill.

Ugly: My upper body strength. Forget looking good, my new gym goal is to turn these pythons into surfing machines.

Awesome: Surprises! On paper, Skaftafell didn’t really seem like the most exciting place, but I’m so happy we made it there. It was a challenging hike with a really rewarding view at the end and it turned our spirits right around after a slightly disappointing morning.

Tune in next time to hear all about Viking Tombs and Gas Station etiquette!

P.S. If you liked this, check out Part 1 and Part 3!

Where the Trolls are – Iceland Part 1

Hi friends!!

So many people I know are going to Iceland. Back in November when Jamie and I booked this trip for my 30th birthday, I though we were cool, hip adventurers going where no hipster had gone before. Turns out everyone and their spray tan technician are going to Iceland, so I thought I should post a bit about it for people who are planning a trip!

First thing: Jamie and I went at the end of May. Which can be a blessing and a curse. It’s between seasons so there are a bunch of tours that don’t run because Winter is over but the Summer season tours haven’t begun yet. There are also a few roads you can’t access because the thawing snow and ice make the roads too muddy. So while you may be limited in your activity options somewhat, it’s also much less busy during this time of year than the summer and a little bit cheaper too. Speaking of which, you know how they say Iceland is Greener than Greenland? That’s because there’s SO MUCH CASH MONEY COMING INTO THIS PLACE. Iceland is the most expensive place I’ve ever visited. It’s worth it and I loved it, but be prepared to spend some money, even doing it the cheap way like we did.

So because I took 1 thousand pictures, I’ve split this post into parts. This is part 1. How many parts will there be? I have no idea. Also, sorry for all the landscapes but this is my post, not yours so just deal with it.

As Jamie and I were flying above Reykjavik, we watched the sun shining over the clouds at 4am. It was exciting to see we might get some sun on our first day! However, as the plane started its decent, we broke through a thick shelf of clouds and all of a sudden the sun was gone. We wouldn’t see it again for another 3 days. Iceland!

Our first morning we landed in Keflavik, took a shuttle to the downtown Reykjavik bus station, took a cab to get breakfast at the only hotel that had breakfast that early then went to pick up our camper van. We used CampEasy and while there were a few hiccups at the start (did you know it’s not legally necessary to have a rearview mirror in Iceland?), ultimately they were great and even came to us to replace to our tiny fridge later on the trip when it conked out. Note: Standard vehicles in Iceland are always cheaper and more easily available. If you can’t drive a stick like us, make sure to book well in advance and be prepared to pay a little more.

Then we went to the Bonus supermarket to pick up groceries for our trip. This is where we discovered Iceland’s answer to the greek yogurt craze “Skyr”. Looks like President’s choice has recently released a “Skyr – style yogurt” of their own, but honestly it’s not like the real thing. It’s just yummy. And it’s everywhere in Iceland. And we ate it for breakfast every day.

So, by the time we started to head out of the city towards Snæfellsnes Peninsula, we were pretty tired as we had been up for 30 something hours, so at one point we pulled over to the side of the road on a cliff face and had a nap in our van. Waking up and looking out your window at the Icelandic scenery never got old. Every 10 minutes you’re driving through a completely different type of landscape that varies from “looks like the moon” to “looks like a a giant moss monster lay down on everything”. We drove a couple of hours through super windy mountainous roads and legit creepy fog to reach our first campsite, Olafsvik.

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Driving to Snæfellsnes Peninsula
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Driving to Snæfellsnes Peninsula
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Driving to Snæfellsnes Peninsula
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Stopping for a break in our Camper Van
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Our first campsite: Ólafsvík

The campsite was lovely – it had nice heated washrooms and showers and a kitchen room that everyone could share. We met some cool people from around the world and ended up chatting through dinner and getting some ideas for the rest of trip.

The next day, we woke up to pouring rain and howling wind (that day would end up being a high of 10° and a low of 4°) and started driving west along the northern edge of the peninsula to Skorosvik. There’s a place you can park your car to lookout over a beautiful beach. We thought it would be a nice place for our first hike of the trip, so we started walking along the cliffs towards the Ondveroarnes lighthouse. This hike was super windy and a little rainy but it really felt like we were walking along the edge of the Earth. There was no one else hiking there so we had it all to ourselves. We walked for about an hour and a half to the lighthouse, had some snacks and walked back to the car.

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Waking up the next morning
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Skarosvik
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Skarosvik
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Skarosvik
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Skarosvik
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Skarosvik
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Skarosvik
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Skarosvik
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Ondveroarnes lighthouse
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Cool Truck

Then we drove about 20 minutes along the coast to Dritvik where there was a beautiful black sand beach with crazy gigantic waves. We only stayed there for a short time because the rain was starting to come down harder, so we drove to Hellnar for lunch at Primus Cafe . Sitting in the cafe eating lamb stew watching the rain on the Ocean from the floor to ceiling windows I remember it being half cozy and gorgeous, half dreary and desolate. Iceland for me fits this description a lot of the time. Eerily beautiful minimalism can also sometimes feel like bleak isolation. It’s so gorgeous and it’s not Mexico. Remember that.

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Dritvik
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Dritvik
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Dritvik
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Dritvik
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Lamb stew at Primus Cafe in Hellnar

We kept driving to our next campsite, which turned out to be the cutest working sheep farm where they also let travellers set up tents and campervans on their front lawn. They had a little cafe for food, warm washrooms and a food prep area for visitors. We met a couple from Ontario who were touring Iceland, sleeping in their tent…brave souls. That night was just as rainy and windy as all the rest of our nights had been and it caused us to sleep in a little later the next day.  The Bjarteyjarsandur Family Farm also gives school tours. So imagine our surprise when we woke up the next morning and walked out of our van in our PJs to a group of 30 adorable Icelandic kindergarten students staring at us while eating their morning snack. Góðan daginn!

While we were packing up to head out, a couple of the resident goats broke the rules and made their way into the cafe, standing on the tables and chairs, causing quite the ruckus. They were super cute and everyone wanted to take them home with them.

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Driving to Bjarteyjarsandur Farm
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Driving to Bjarteyjarsandur Farm
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Driving to Bjarteyjarsandur Farm
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Driving to Bjarteyjarsandur Farm
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Arrived at Hvalfjörður Bay
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Bjarteyjarsandur Farm
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Bjarteyjarsandur Farm
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Bjarteyjarsandur Farm Piano
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Bjarteyjarsandur Farm Taxidermy
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Bjarteyjarsandur Farm Sweaters
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In our camper van, writing in my Journal at Bjarteyjarsandur Farm
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Bjarteyjarsandur Farm goats on the tables!
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Bjarteyjarsandur Farm chair goat
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Bjarteyjarsandur Farm blanket goat

We stopped at a gas station for our free coffee (pro tip: all the gas stations have a sketchy pot of coffee that is free for anyone who wants it. Don’t ask questions…just take the coffee. It’s allowed) and started driving towards Glymur, my favourite of all the waterfalls we saw in Iceland (and there were a lot). This was my favourite day in Iceland. The sun was shining a little bit off and on, and while the Glymur hike is not for everyone (the beginning is easy but the higher you get, the harder the hike and people afraid of heights may not enjoy it so much), I loved it. The views from the top of our hike were amazing and the challenge is so worth it when you get to the top. You can actually hike much farther than we did, going around to the other side of the falls, but we did about a 4 hour hike up one side to the top and back down.

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Driving to Glymur
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Glymur warnings!
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Hiking up Glymur
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Hiking up Glymur
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Hiking up Glymur
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Hiking up Glymur
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Hiking up Glymur – crossing the river
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Hiking up Glymur – crossing the river
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Hiking up Glymur
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Hiking up Glymur – whoa blue skies!!
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Hiking up Glymur
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Hiking up Glymur
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Hiking up Glymur
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Hiking up Glymur
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Hiking up Glymur
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Crossing the river again!

Then it was time for the Golden Circle. In my opinion, this Golden Circle is the most overrated, over-publicized part of Iceland. Or maybe we didn’t do it right? I dunno, but in comparison to the other things we saw and did, it makes me think this part of Iceland is so popular because it provides a few different types of things to see (a couple geysers, a waterfall, some National Park land), it’s relatively close to Reykjavik and you can do the whole thing in a few hours. This is the perfect tour for a 82 year old who is very into turbines, tourist families and waterfalls covered in safety warnings. Skip it.

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Gulfoss in the Golden Circle
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I think I look like the elf grandma from The Neverending Story here.
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Gulfoss in the Golden Circle

 

Ugly: As I’m remembering these days, I think of them so fondly but I also remember how dark and dreary these days were. I know during other seasons, the weather is a bit sunnier and warmer but I would caution anyone thinking of going: It can get a little depressing. It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world and I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to experience it, but I think I learned how much I appreciate the sun on this trip and how much a lack of sun affects my personality. Sun worshipers beware.

Awesome: I will always remember our camper van with love. It was such a cozy retreat from the wind and rain and Jamie and I got into such a comfortable routine every morning and night. To find out if you really love someone: Spend 8 days together cooking, changing and sleeping in a 17 ft by 7 ft van. Also these first few days really felt like we were exploring new terrain. Every hour seeing new landscapes that I had never known about let alone seen before made the long drives seem more like discoveries.

And thus concludes part 1 of the Iceland series! Come back next time for harrowing tales of black sand beach surfing, $40 fish and chips and what happens when you get in a hot spring with a thousand British children!

P.S. If you liked this, check out Part 2 and Part 3!